Today I saw a black and white cat with what appeared to be a Hitler mustache, crossing the street, walking, trotting away from me. I am trying to decode its meaning. I am leaning towards interpreting it as a favorable omen. I think it is time for something favorable to happen here in this new city. It’s almost April and I don’t think very much has happened since I first landed here in January. Back then, positive signs were everywhere I could see. All I had to do was open my eyes to look up and see them. It did not take much exertion.
Lately though I am either looking up at the wrong time or looking away at the wrong time. There might be a reason why drunk or insane people are gravitating towards me on the train. Yesterday, I was reading this great book while riding the red line, and this man in a white tracksuit sits down next to me. I would say that he smelled like a distillery but that would not be fair to say because (1) it is too caustic and (2) I have never been to a distillery. But the aroma was undeniable. I guess it is possible that I was the source of it. I’ve never even considered that. It’s not like I’m such a purist. Just the night before I had a very small bottle of saki at a Japanese restaurant, and I had not showered afterwards. And here I am judging other people. It’s not fair.
So this guy starts to ask me about the book, what it’s about. I tell him that it is a biography of a composer. He told me that he was writing a book, too, a memoir, or poetry or a poetic memoir. But all of my instincts wanted to disengage from this conversation before it lost control and became a conversation and I did not want to think about where that would lead. I felt this claustrophobic dread hover over me as he continued talking. He asked me if the book was about Zen Buddhism because his book was about Zen Buddhism, too.
All of this occurred over the course of 30 seconds, but I just could not handle it. I was tired and congested with a sinus headache. I was hungry. Reading on the train was very appealing. Engaging in conversation with a very inebriated guy in a tracksuit was the last thing I wanted to do. But what could I do about it?
My one and only instinct was to get off the train at the next stop, 30 seconds away. I stood up, avoided eye contact, and said “good luck with your book” as I exited the train, quickly entering the next car behind it, with the hope that he did not see me, partly because I feared he might follow me, and partly because I was concerned that I might be hurting his feelings if he saw that I was only pretending to get off at that stop.
I know I would feel a little hurt were I in his shoes (and not his tracksuit). Maybe if I were him I would wonder what I was doing to make another person feel uncomfortable enough to pretend to leave a train. And I would try to think of ways I could be more attuned and sensitive to that. I might think that I should be less of a talker and maybe more of a listener. Maybe if I were a better listener, people might actually prefer to sit next to me on the train. And I would wonder why I was blathering to this person on the train with a sinus headache who was only trying to read about John Cage and Zen Buddhism.
Or maybe I would wonder why people could be so rude. I’ve been told that people can be rude and unfriendly in this new city. But I have thought, how can I make a blanket statement like that about an entire population I have never even met? And here was this person, disrupting a very well-intended conversation, saying a very condescending “good luck” and walking away. I would wonder why it was that people are like that. I might hope that I would not become that kind of person.